The July edition of our popular OnDeck Newsletter will go out later today. If you’d like to join the thousands who receive it via email, you may subscribe (and read past issues) here.
CoachDeck customer Middleboro Little League’s Majors all-star team had a terrific run, winning their district championship and making it to the final four of the state championship tourney. Wondering if the coaches were doing the “0-2 Drill”, “Three Team Hitting,” or any of the other 52 fun drills in their decks.
When “all-star” tournaments roll around in recreational sports, there are usually two camps when it comes to choosing teams. Those who believe that the more kids who get to participate the better, and those who feel rosters should be whittled to the smallest number to create the most competitive teams.
First, there are probably some differences in philosophy between various sports. For instance in soccer or basketball it would be easier than say, baseball, to insert a weaker player without serious adverse effect on the team. Because these are sports where there is always a teammate to help cover for potential mistakes, a coach can feel less anxiety if he subs a stronger player out for a few minutes. Plus, because both of these sports are so physically taxing, coaches may want a deeper bench to spell their front line players.
However, baseball may be the only team sport that is also an individual sport. When a batter is at the plate, it is one-on-one between him and the pitcher. No teammate can step in behind and bail him out. Furthermore, in a youth league six-inning game, each team only gets to make eighteen outs before the contest is over. And since most baseball organizations mandate a minimum amount of play, (in Little League all-stars at least one at-bat), then it becomes more difficult to add more players knowing they will be taking precious at-bats from the top hitters.
So it really comes down to the league, and or, coach’s objective. Is all-stars when we shift away from recreational mode and into competitive mode? Is this the point where we say that it is about being as winning-oriented as possible and only putting the most elite on the field? Little League International has its opinion. Below is a question submitted to Little League via an online forum, and their response:
What is the minimum number of players a team can have on a tournament roster?
Tournament Director’s answer:
By rule, a tournament team is only required to field nine players. Playing Rule – 1.01 clearly states that Baseball/Softball is a game between nine players. Little League would not encourage fielding only nine players because if one player becomes ill or is injured that team is subject to forfeiture by action of the Tournament Committee. From a philosophical perspective, Little League would encourage all local leagues to carry the maximum number of players, (14) to give as many children the opportunity to participate and experience the International Tournament.
So why not create a rule mandating that a league carry fourteen players, and eliminate the question? One reason is it’s possible that some small leagues might not even have enough interested players to fill fourteen spots, and it would not be right to exclude that league from participating. And it also seems likely that organizations want to allow local leagues some latitude when determining who and how many to carry.
I find it interesting that most of the International teams in last year’s Little League World Series brought the maximum fourteen players. The U.S. teams were a different story. The Great Lakes Region representative from Kentucky brought ten, others came with eleven, and the average was twelve. However, the team that won it all, Ocean View from Southern California, carried thirteen, and perennial powerhouse Warner Robins, GA filled all fourteen spots.
This is not to say one philosophy is better than another, or that leagues that allow more kids to play are right and leagues or clubs that are more exclusive are bad. There are many factors that weigh into the decision. One year when I was managing all-stars, our league decided to carry twelve players. There was a thirteenth boy who was very close, but left out after the initial vote. I added him to my squad even though I worried that an extra player might cause substitution headaches and put us at a competitive disadvantage. It worked out great. While our team didn’t go far, winning three and losing two before being knocked out, we wouldn’t have fared better with fewer players. Every kid on the team got at least one hit during those five games and they’ll all have those memories and bragging rights forever.
The next season, our league had a team that thought they had a good chance to go all the way to the Little League World Series, based on the championships they’d won when they were younger. Four of the league’s managers and a coach had sons who’d played on the team each of the previous two years. The son of the league’s fifth manager was a very good player who, I felt, deserved to be included. When the five managers got together to choose the team, the fifth manager’s son was left off. He argued his boy’s case for over an hour but the others would not budge. They wanted to leave their original team intact and maintained that a thirteenth player would hurt their chances of going a long way.
Instead of making a deep, weeks-long tournament run as expected, that team was eliminated after only three games. Its hard to know if they would have done better if they’d added an extra player, but they certainly wouldn’t have done worse.
In youth sports, especially recreational youth sports, there is always a judgment to be made relative to the balance between playing for fun and playing to win. We all know all-stars are more about winning than the regular season. How much more is the question.
By Dave Hudgens
In Part One of Dave Hudgens’ article on cues for hitting success he covered the importance of practice, what an instructor should look for in a hitter and how to teach players to better see the ball. The article continues below:
Stay balanced on takes
A hitter having a proper take is another tool for the hitting instructor to evaluate. When my hitters take a pitch, I like to see them stay balanced with their weight – not going too far forward. I like to see 50/50 or 60/40 with a little bit of movement back to the ball. My cue to hitters for staying balanced is very simple, “Stay balanced.” Once again this goes back to their practice. Hitters have to understand what it means to be balanced and what the term “stay balanced” means.
A fourth essential key to helping hitters is to recognize their effort level. I tell my hitters to “stay within themselves” which means don’t over-swing, and try not to hit the ball out of the ballpark. Effort level is a topic that is often overlooked. Young kids start forming high effort level bad habits at a young age for various reasons: lack of strength, wanting to hit a homerun, wanting to hit the ball as far as some of the bigger kids, pressure from coaches or parents or just game situations. High effort levels cause hitters to have a tendency to over-swing or swing harder then what they are capable of. The key I use with hitters is “slow down.” They should feel like they have something left in their bodies – it should not be a max effort swing. If hitters are using a max effort swing, what it tells me is that they are not trusting their hands. High effort levels can cause the other keys to look bad. If a kid swings too hard, it may cause his head to lift and his balance to be off. If I see them staying balanced with their head down, they usually have good effort levels.
Proper communication: what, how and when
All that being said, great preparation and outstanding knowledge is useless without the proper communication techniques to the hitter. Equally important as to what is said is how and when it is said.
You can give the perfect instruction and adjustment keys to a player, but if it is not said at the right time and in the right way, they won’t hear it and sometimes even worse, they will tune you out. We have covered the what for each of the keys mentions. The how is easy, never shout or belittle your hitters. You are there to instruct, not get angry and yell. Likewise you want to tell your hitter what you want him to do, not what you don’t want him to do. For example, you want to say, “Get a good pitch to hit” rather than “don’t swing at the curve ball in the dirt.” If you say don’t swing at the curve ball in the dirt, guess what, your hitter is thinking? Curve ball in the dirt. Be positive and instruct in a positive manner. Repeating this in practice and drills is essential to being able to communicate in the game.
Generally speaking, I wouldn’t talk to a player right after his at bat because he is upset and too emotional to be able to comprehend let alone adjust to what you are saying. I would speak to him before his next at bat usually in the next inning. I would ask him three questions:
What were you trying to do?
What went wrong?
What kind of adjustment are you going to make?
Likewise I always try to find something positive in that at bat. For example, maybe he swung at a bad pitch, but he kept his head down. I might say something like, “You kept your head down good at that at bat, now make sure you get a pitch you can drive.”
Good luck with your cues and I hope all your hitters make the opposing pitching coaches take the long, slow walks to the mound. Let the fireworks begin.
By Dave Hudgens
The fireworks blasted from center field. No, it was not the fourth of July – the lead off hitter had just hit a rocket first pitch of the game for a home run. Second batter, first pitch, another home run, another brilliant fireworks display. Third batter, two pitches later, home run, off go the fireworks. The pitching coach takes a long, slow walk to the mound, looking like he has some words of wisdom to give his shell-shocked pitcher. The pitcher, irate and cursing at his coach, lets him know that he isn’t going to tell him something he doesn’t already know. The coach replies, “I don’t intend to tell you anything, I just wanted to give the guy shooting off the fireworks more time so he can reload.” The pitcher smiles, relaxes, and retires the side. Cues – they can be life or death to the success of an athlete.
I am constantly asked the following questions concerning keys or cues for hitters: what should an instructor look for in a hitter? What cues should an instructor convey to a hitter? In order to give justice to the answer to those questions, you must first think backwards – the instructor must not only be prepared himself but he must also have his hitter prepared for each at bat before the game even begins. The purpose of practice is to perfect the swing so that at game time the hitter shouldn’t “think” about his mechanics. Once the game begins, the hitter should be so prepared to play the game that his reactions take over and he has a solid, repeatable swing. If he is thinking mechanics, his attention will be divided. His total attention during the game has to be on seeing the ball.
What to look for in hitters
What should an instructor look for in a hitter? As a hitting instructor, I always start from the ground up when evaluating a hitter’s mechanics. What is the position of his feet? Does he have good balance? Where is his stride direction? What is his head position? Once you have established where he is in these areas, you can work on cues: key words or key instructions to help him. You want to keep the keys simple, remembering that during the game the main goal is for the hitter to get a good pitch to hit. There are four main areas to look for in a hitter to help him make adjustments:
1. Seeing the ball
2. Staying balanced
3. Having an easy effort level
4. Maintaining a good head position
Seeing the ball
You can’t hit the ball if you can’t see it and it is difficult to see the ball if your head is in the wrong position. I remind my hitters to have their heads down throughout their swing. This is extremely critical especially since head position and head discipline isn’t taught at the youth level. Not only is head position important for seeing the ball, it is also important for swing path. If the head lifts too soon, the hitter will have more of a tendency to pull off the ball, inhibiting the proper swing path. Therefore, a cue I tell hitters is very simple, “Keep your head down.” But again this goes back to practice and it is in practice that you have to make sure your hitters understand what that means. You can’t tell them in a game situation to keep their head down if they don’t understand what it means and how to do it. Once the knowledge of head position is established, they will see that if their head is down, their swing path will stay on-line, they will see the ball better and they will stay on the ball better.
Dave Hudgens has been involved with the best of baseball for over 30 years. He is currently the Hitting Coach for the New York Mets. Prior to that he was a longtime hitting coach in the Oakland Athletics’ organization.
In my research and more importantly in my practice I aspire to educate parents about parenting and sports. Some critical ideas I strive to communicate include:
1. Establish open lines of communication with your sports children. Encourage them to talk about their successes, because more often than not they are achieving success.
2. Incorporate the 5-1 rule when talking to sports children about their performance. Encourage them, and then reinforce the Top 5 Performance Skills Successes they excelled at today. The second step is to identify (1) performance skill they might work to improve before the next competition. Reinforce the successes by writing them down and track them over time.
2. Understand their goals and dreams, give them guidance, but let them have their own goals and support those goals not yours. Help them by making sure their goals are achievable. If they achieve success incrementally they are more likely to continue to achieve and enjoy what they are doing. If they enjoy what they are doing there is high probability they will not burn out.
3. Sideline coaches confuse young athletes. Let the coaches do the coaching and the parents provide the support. They are working as hard as they can and need to know that their parents notice this. If you want to offer comments and feedback I suggest two options; offer encouraging and motivational support with positive and encouraging comments during the game, or wait until after the game.
4. Help your child cope with setbacks. Young athletes often expect too much of themselves without encouragement to do so by the parents. Athletes who expect too much of themselves have trouble dealing with minor errors that are a natural part of sports. Help your child remain composed in challenging situations. Give him or her “permission” to make mistakes. Tell her it’s ok to shoot an “air ball” from time to time and that no one can be perfect.
5. Allow the child to live their dream – and not yours. Ask yourself, “am I here for my child or is my child here for me?” If it’s the latter then you might like to consider adjusting your approach. Kids want to “play” and play for the sake of playing.
6. Check in with reality. If you expect your child to be a star and go on to college with a sports scholarship please take time to check in with reality. Parents want their children to be successful, but please remember that less than 5% of high school athletes ever go on to play a college sport. If the talent is honestly there at an early age I encourage you to build on that, but if you are stretching reality because “you” want it to happen please be careful.
7. Sprinkle the sugar often. Put a smile on your face, relax, and enjoy the moment. We teach kids to perform in the moment so why not set an example and be in the moment with them. Pay attention to what they are doing and be proud of their commitment and accomplishments. Believe me they are more focused on the fun aspect than on the outcome or end results. Pats on the back and plenty of smiles from the sidelines will be worth their weight in scores, or goals made.
For more information about this article contact or for information on mental game coaching contact John R. Ellsworth – Mental Game Coach at Protex Sports, LLC. www.protexsports.com. You can also send your questions to Ask Coach John.
Four of the eight remaining Little League teams vying for the Maryland State Championship have ordered CoachDecks for their coaches in the past. West Salisbury, Easton, Rising Sun, and Brunswick Railroaders Little Leagues each won their respective Districts to make the State Tourney.